Majority of mobile consumers overpaying for data at a total cost of £800 million

The majority (71%) of mobile customers with a SIM-only plan are overpaying for data they don’t use, at a total cost of £800 million per year, according to new analysis from Citizens Advice.

SIM-only mobile customers could save approximately £63 per year by switching to a cheaper deal that matched their data consumption.

The average amount of data wasted each month was 2GB. This is equivalent to streaming 3 hours of video or 28 hours of music.

Citizens Advice estimates this affects 12 million people in the UK who have a SIM-only contract. While polling only asked SIM-only clients, Citizens Advice said this likely affects people who have bundled contracts too.

People who purchased their contract in store were found to waste 4.2GB on average, while those who bought online waste 2.6GB, suggesting sales practices in store could particularly be leading consumers to take out contracts with excessive data allowances.

The charity is urging more mobile networks to refund unused data, or make it easier for customers to reduce their monthly allowance if they find they are wasting data repeatedly.

This is another example of mobile companies overcharging customers that Citizens Advice has revealed.  

The charity previously found mobile phone companies profit £475 million each year by continuing to charge customers for phones they have already paid off. Broadband companies earn £1.2bn annually from the loyalty penalty, by charging loyal customers more for their services.

Citizens Advice is calling for an independent consumer champion for the mobile and broadband industries to stand up to practices that exploit customers.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Mobile companies should be doing more to help their customers save on data they don’t use, especially when it’s clear people are consistently underusing their allowance.

“This is another example of mobile companies overcharging their customers. It’s time for a consumer champion to stand up for people and push for change on issues like this.

“While we wait for industry to improve support for customers, individuals can take action too. Anyone looking to save money should check their data usage and see if they can switch to a cheaper deal that matches what they use.”


Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice analysis of raw data from a YouGov survey of 4,070 adults in Great Britain, surveyed between 29 November and 3 December 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

  2. Citizens Advice commissioned YouGov to survey 4,070 GB adults between 29th November and 3rd December 2018. Of these, 1,425 people were on a SIM-only contract. Survey participants were asked: How much they spend each month, How much data they pay for, How much data they use. To reflect that real world use can fluctuate, we then applied a buffer of 25% onto this estimated monthly consumption, to account for monthly variations in use. We then rounded up to the next whole gigabyte (GB), in order to find cheaper tariffs that match. This means that whilst everyone had a buffer of 25%, most people had a more generous buffer, some as high as 90%. We used desk research to find the cheapest SIM-only tariffs (from any network) with a range of monthly data allowances (from 500MB to unlimited). We then compared the prices of the cheapest SIM-only deal that matched their consumption to the price they are currently paying. We found that 71% could save money. For people who had unlimited deals we compared the price they were paying now to the cheapest unlimited tariff. Scaling this up to population level (assuming 50,644,094 Great Britain adults 18+) resulted in 12.6 million GB adults who could save, with average savings of £5.29 per month.

  3. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  4. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers.

  5. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Debt is the second most common issue we help people with,  accounting for 1 in 4 of the problems we helped people with last year. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with.

  6. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.

  7. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free and independent support for both prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  8. Citizens Advice also offers Pension Wise appointments at 500 locations across England and Wales.

  9. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  10. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  11. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2017-18. For full service statistics see  our monthly publication Advice trends.

  12. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.